Two killers serving life sentences almost committed a further murder in a sinister pre-planned assault on a fellow inmate at a top security prison, a court was told.

Peter Christian Brown and Brian Townsend carried out the attack on the other prisoner, shortly after he returned to his cell, on their landing at HMP Frankland, near Durham, on the morning of December 31, last year

Durham Crown Court heard that the victim was lured into Townsend’s cell, but on entering, immediately felt concerned, seeing a sheet placed over the bed and Brown standing in the doorway.

Townend placed a ligature, fashioned from shoe laces, over the other inmate’s neck, while Brown produced a craft knife with which he carried out a frenzied attack, striking him with several blows, one to the neck.

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It was only the arrival of a member of prison staff, alerted by the commotion, that brought the concerted assault to an end and the victim was given medical attention for his injuries, initially at the prison and then at an external hospital.

Martin Towers, prosecuting, said the pair were investigated for what was initially a suspected case of attempted murder.

Brown was later to confirm that he suspected the victim had laced his food with the drug tramadol.

Both inmates were eventually charged with wounding with intent and one count each of possessing an unauthorised weapon in prison,

Brown, 55, and his 39-year-old co-accused both admitted the charges at a hearing earlier in the week.

Judge Jo Kidd adjourned the hearing to assess the potential sentences she was able to pass on two men already serving life for murder, three such offences in Brown’s case.

They both appeared back via video link, Brown from HMP Full Sutton, where he has since been transferred, and Townsend, from Frankland Prison, at Friday’s (Aug 4) sentencing hearing.

Read more: Thousands of prison staff and inmates attacked in North East prisons

The court heard Brown murdered a cell-mate at Parkhurst Prison, on the Isle of Wight, in 1996, making it appear to be a case of suicide, a killing he was only convicted of after a case review, in 2013.

But, by then, he had also killed two vulnerable men in their own homes in six days in Nottinghamshire, in January 2010, both knife attacks and one in which a ligature was also used, before concealing the bodies.

Prior to today's sentencing exercise, Brown would only have been eligible for consideration for release by the Parole Board when he is aged 93.

Townsend was said to have taken part in the joint murder of a fellow squatter at a former nightclub in Norwich, dousing him in petrol and setting him alight, in June 2005, for which he received a life sentence with a minimum ‘tariff’ of 17 years, at court in 2006.

Today’s hearing was told he has been refused parole once, last year, and his position will next be reviewed some time from December next year.

Commenting on their latest joint attack, Judge Jo Kidd said: “This was clearly a pre-meditated endeavour on the part of both of the defendants and a decision was made for Mr Brown to arm himself with a craft knife.”

She said the home-made ligature, with paper 'handles' to improve grip, was used in a bid to strangle the victim and make him less able to resist Brown’s attack with the knife.

“This was an organised, pre-meditated group attack by both inmates on an individual who was lured into a cell where he would be isolated by himself and be subject to a very persistent joint attack.”

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She said that given the area on his neck where he was injured with the knife it could have easily resulted in the victim’s death.

Judge Kidd passed a 12-year sentence on Brown and ten years for Townsend.

Both will be consecutive to the existing sentences the pair are serving, extending the time they will have to serve before parole can be considered.